The City of Cape Town has lost face with its planned introduction of the new Liquor Trading Days and Hours By-Law today, in that it has had to backtrack twice in the past few days, demonstrating the lack of professionalism of the City’s Liquor Policy Task Team, which worked on the by-law for the past two years, and thereby one questions if they can be taken seriously going forward.

The long-awaited City of Cape Town Liquor by-law was meant to become effective today, and many outlets selling alcohol are unhappy about what is perceived to be draconian legislation to curb liquor sales, in the interest of reducing accidents due to drunk driving, a problem particularly prevalent in the Western Cape – however the City’s by-law ads do not mention this reason for the city’s new Liquor by-law! 

A UCT student in Social Development, Policy and Management, Rowan Dunne, discovered earlier this week that the by-law has not been fully gazetted, in that three amendments made since it was gazetted in September 2010 have not yet been gazetted, and will only be so on 14 January, making any attempt by the City to apply the liquor regulations illegal until then, reports the Cape Times.

In addition, the new by-law would have meant that all pubs, hotels and restaurants selling alcohol would have had to close their sales at 2h00 this morning, the new time limit meant to have been introduced by the by-law.  But given that it has not been gazetted, outlets could stay open as late as they liked on this longest party night of the year.

From today, the by-law was meant to have prohibited the selling or drinking of alcohol in hospitality establishments before 11h00, and after 23h00 in residential areas, and after 2h00 in CBD areas.   The City already had to amend the 11h00 morning deadline, to accommodate champagne breakfasts.   Sparkling wine may be used for such breakfasts, on condition that it is served with food.

Ironically, the number of deaths due to accidents has fallen dramatically this festive season, compared to the previous two years, due to stricter roadside controls by the traffic authorities, and strict new laws regarding fines/imprisonment due to excessive speeding, and driving drunk.   In addition, the Cape Argus has commenced a “Name and Shame” campaign, publishing on its first page names of persons who have been convicted of drunk driving.

Strangely too Mayor Dan Plato said in an interview on Kfm earlier this week that the City did not have enough law enforcement officers, and that these would initially be visiting establishments to educate them about the new by-law.   The City has also advertised the by-law regulations in the local Cape Times and Cape Argus newspapers.

The times at which alcohol may be served and drunk are as follows:

Residential areas:  B&B’s, guest houses, backpackers, pubs, taverns, restaurants, night clubs, theatres, places of entertainment, sports clubs –  11h00 – 23h00  (Hotels until 2h00)

“Local or neighbourhood business centres”:   B&B’s, guest houses, hotels, backpackers, pubs, bars, taverns, restaurants, night clubs, theatres, sports clubs, places of entertainment – 11h00 – 23h00    (Sports clubs until midnight, rezoned Hotels until 2h00.  Liquor stores and specialised wine shops may sell alcohol from 9h00 – 18h00 Mondays – Saturdays)

“General Business centres” : B&B’s, guest houses, hotels, backpackers, pubs, bars, taverns and restaurants – 11h00 – 2h00 (Supermarkets, specialised wine shops and liquor stores may sell alcohol from 9h00 – 18h00 Mondays – Saturdays) 

Industrial areas: Pubs, bars, taverns, restaurants, night clubs, theatres, places of entertainment, sports clubs – 11h00 – 2h00 (Liquor stores and specialised wine stores 9h00 – 18h00 Mondays – Saturdays)

Agricultural areas (i.e. wine farms): Guest accommodation, pubs, bars, restaurants, ‘tourist facilities’ and sport clubs – 11h00 – 2h00.  Wineries may sell and serve wine from 11h00 – 24h00 every day of the week, and may sell it for off-consumption from 9h00 – 18h00 every day of the week.

Small Holdings:  Guest accommodation, pubs, bars, restaurants, ‘tourist facilities’, sports clubs – 11h00 – 24h00 (Wineries as for agricultural areas above).

On Tuesday this week, Councillor Taki Amira had announced that the City was going ahead with the introduction of the by-law, and that it applies from today.  Outlets with liquor licences were threatened that they could lose their licences.  On Thursday, he did an about-turn, after a meeting with city club and bar owners, as well as with Dunne.   “The City would like to allay fears of club and restaurant owners with regards to the enforcement of the City’s new Liquor Trading Days and Hours By-Law.   The by-law will be phased in over the next few months and will not be stringently endorsed until all role players have been extensively informed about the new legislation.”  Club owners are uncertain of their zoning, and which time limit therefore applies to them in respect of the closing time.  

The City’s by-law is likely to become a benchmark for other municipalities in the Western Cape.   The City’s by-law advertisement already warns that “the new Western Cape Liquor Act takes away the automatic right of renewal for an annual licence”.   The ‘policing’ of the by-law by the public is encouraged in the City’s by-law advertisement, and could lead to misuse for ‘political’ or ‘points-scoring’ purposes, and lead to bad neighbourliness. 

The City’s Clubs, Bars and Restaurant Association is planning legal action, and plans to approach the Cape High Court on Monday, to fight the by-law.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage